cast: James Cosmo, David Leon, Emma Pierson, and Marc Warren
directors: Rankin and Chris Cottam
97 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jim Steel
Now this is a real curio: what starts out as a gritty London thriller quickly turns into a weird urban fairytale. And there is another unusual aspect to this film, but we’ll come to that in due time. First, we’ll examine the set-up. The basic idea is supposed an exploration of what the saints would be like if they lived in contemporary London. I’m still none the wiser after watching it.
Mr Karva (played with glee by James Cosmo) is a small-time businessman/ crook (we are never exactly sure what he does) in a Greek community somewhere in London, and amongst his satellites is his resentful stepson, Othello (although I bet he was called Hamlet in an earlier draft). Othello (David Leon) also has his followers, namely Emilio (Bronson Webb) and girlfriend Tina (Emma Pierson). Roadrunner (Daon Broni) is, as it says on the can, a runner for Mr Karva, incredibly fit but afflicted by an inability to stand still. One night Roadrunner trips over a boy (Sam MacLintock) in the park and realises, with a shock, that he has stopped moving. For reasons that are unclear (a frequent problem in this film), he leaves the boy at Othello’s flat. When Othello and his friends discover the boy there, they are initially nonplussed but then gradually they realise that this silent, luminous child has the power to grant everyone their secret wish. With Roadrunner, this is to stop moving; with Othello, this is to win at gambling – not to become rich, but merely to win. The money is merely a bonus that moves him out of Mr Karva’s sphere of influence. Naturally, a power struggle for control of the boy arises.
There are various cameos. Gillian Kearney plays Christella, a café worker. In an audacious subplot of sublime beauty, she discovers a wino when visiting her son’s grave and assumes that this silent, confused man is her son returning to her. Less successfully, Marc Warren plays a transvestite priest who has lost his faith. He may make for a convincing nightclub singer, but why is he here? He’s not even playing an Orthodox priest.
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Mr Karva, by now impotent in all senses (can you guess his secret desire?), starts to get annoyed. He stacks his annoyed phrases one on top of another, almost as if writer Tony Grisoni could not decide which one to go for and compromised by using them all. Unfortunately no one talks like that in real life. He kidnaps Roadrunner but is unable to torture him for information. However, to show what a shit he is, he drops a kitten into a deep-fat fryer in Christella’s café. This should rightfully horrify the viewer. Think of all the health and safety violations! What’s a kitten doing in a place that prepares food? Mr Karva then turns to the spurned Emilio to achieve his aims, but Emilio has his own secret desire. He wishes to be Othello. This is a (not entirely successful) change effected by careful use of make-up. It’s a bit like watching Spud from Trainspotting discovering emo.
There is another curious fact that should be mentioned about Lives Of The Saints. It is sponsored by the Meltin’ Pot clothing store. The directors claim that they were given a free hand in making the film, and in truth the only time that the influence of the sponsor shows is in the ham-fisted scene where Othello and his friends try and dress the boy. It’s possibly going a bit too far to liken Meltin’ Pot to the Medici, as happens in the accompanying documentary, but this film has much more integrity than, say, Fay Weldon’s The Bulgari Connection. Such is the current state of fashion that nowhere else will the viewer think that he is watching a catalogue, and thus the problem with those 1970s’ American cop shows is sidestepped. You remember them; everyone drove the same make of car, and therefore the shows ended up looking like they were shot in an alternative universe.
It’s an interesting film and, for all its flaws, it’s never dull. DVD bonus features include a making-of documentary and the original trailer.